Wednesday 23 October 2019

Read all about it: 10 modern Irish classics to celebrate World Book Day

Kevin Barry's There Are Little Kingdoms
Kevin Barry's There Are Little Kingdoms

Hilary White

It's World Book Day today, and while the event is primarily aimed at children with the aim of encouraging them to read more, it's also a good moment for us grown-ups to remind ourselves of the pleasure of a good book. Here are ten modern Irish classics to get you started:

Star of the Sea

By Joseph O'Connor (2002, Random House)

Arguably the first Irish literary triumph of the new millennium, O'Connor's aching, atmospheric and deeply tender famine-ship saga was a global smash that saw its author move into the pantheon of international novel writers. There simply isn't enough room here to list off the accolades and awards that it snapped up.

There Are Little Kingdoms

Kevin Barry (2007, The Stinging Fly Press)

On his way to becoming the most exciting prospect in modern Irish fiction and a byword for linguistic divilment, Barry released this short-story collection as his first real calling card. A Rooney Prize winner and a coup for the much-loved Stinging Fly independent publishing house, …Little Kingdoms is rife with richly-drawn characters, singing narratives and the types of delicate observations that pass most of us by.


by Emma Donoghue (2010, Picador)

Before director Lenny Abrahamson and Brie Larson brought this wrenching tale of a mother and son living in confinement to Oscar-courting attention, Emma Donoghue's novel had been striking chords with readers everywhere in the aftermath of the Josef Fritzl case. It is one thing to wade into such a dark and difficult world and emerge the other side with an international bestseller. It's another to make the results so beautiful and life-affirming.

The Spinning Heart

by Donal Ryan (2012, Doubleday Ireland)

Mad to think Ryan's debut was just seven years ago, and even madder to think he was drowning in rejection letters up to its arrival. In the time since, the Limerick author has become synonymous as the poster boy for a new generation of Irish writers unknotting the moral bankruptcy of the recession with assuredness, skill and wisdom. From word-of-mouth buzz to awards and acclaim, this multifocal saga has secured a rightful place in the nation's heart. Ryan, meanwhile, has continued to yield fruit with freakish consistency.


by Fatti & John Burke (2015, Gill Books)

Adults and children alike were charmed by this large-format confection from father-and-daughter team John and Fatti Burke (on content and illustration duties, respectively). Not only has it made Fatti one of the most in-demand illustrators on the island but Irelandopedia also ushered in a market for smart, sensitive and fact-laced children's books that gently held the hand.

The Glorious Heresies

by Lisa McInerney (2015, John Murray)

The Lisa McInerney/Kevin Barry axis - fire-cracking prose, dark humour, scuffed heels - has been one of the most exciting developments in homegrown literary fiction. Despite already being a celebrated blogger, the former's debut novel caught some off guard with its sizzling existential tale of crime and redemption in Cork. While we await the mooted television adaptation (the rights were snapped up after publication), this is a good time to revisit the 2016 Baileys Prize winner.

Solar Bones

by Mike McCormack (2016, Tramp Press)

A single, unspooling sentence of novel length about the inner thoughts of an engineer from Co Mayo. A hard sell for any publisher, you'd have to agree. Enter Tramp Press, who see something in Mike McCormack's gilded, unorthodox character portal when only polite rejections have been forthcoming. Leap forward a year or two and Solar Bones is now canonical, taking both the Goldsmiths Prize and the International Dublin Literary Award on its way to international acclaim.

Lying in Wait

by Liz Nugent (2016, Penguin)

Nugent's second outing (after 2013's Unravelling Oliver) confirmed not only Ireland's place at the top tier of crime fiction but also its author's canny way with psychological chillers that ask "whydunnit" rather than "whodunnit". Lying in Wait's excruciating tension and unforgettable villain (when did you last hear of anyone calling their baby 'Lydia'?) has kept readers around the world up past their bedtime ever since.

Days Without End

by Sebastian Barry (2016, Faber & Faber)

With younger upstarts popping up across the Irish literary landscape, Barry stepped back into the fold to show them how it's done with this spectacular American Civil War saga told through the eyes of an Irish famine refugee. Deemed "a miracle" by the Costa judges who crowned it Novel of the Year, Days Without End was the culmination of exhaustive research, something plainly obvious in the heady registers it reaches in its tale of love and barbarity.

Notes To Self

by Emily Pine (2018, Tramp Press)

The beating heart of last year and a release that seemed to capture something contemplative, courageous and healing in Irish writing, Pine's award-winning collection of essays takes an unflinching look at themes often deemed too tangled to discuss with any clarity. Not only does the Dublin author untangle them with lofty skill, she cracks open gleaming, devastating truths in the process.

Irish Independent

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